First, a special thanks to Josh Castleman for pointing me to the interview with Steven Erikson I’ll be thinking through in this post. Before you click on that link, know there’s some colorful language sprinkled throughout. Just so you know…
So in the linked interview, Steven Erikson, author of The Malazan Book of the Fallen and other novels, defines the current trend in fantasy literature which many have called Grimdark. Erikson’s take on Grimdark differs from many others in that he doesn’t focus on the “grittiness” of the stories or the often rampant violence they contain. No. Erikson looks deeper, saying: “As a writer I can’t help but look at another author’s work of fiction from a perspective of what, how and why. What is being said, how is it being said, and finally, why is it being said.”
It’s the why that stands out to me and to Erikson, and it is the why that answers the question in this post’s title. So why is Grimdark gritty, visceral, and hopeless? Because it’s taking its cues from the ethosphere–Erikson’s term for the ethos of the culture surrounding you–of both authors and readers, and sadly enough that ethosphere is a Nihilistic one. Many experience this world as a hopeless one, devoid of compassion, justice, mercy, and love where there is no chance for redemption or reconciliation. In short, they recognize that this world is broken, but they don’t see any hope for its healing.
And that is why there cannot be, by definition, Christian Grimdark. If we write from within, and we leave something of our souls on the page when we do, as Christians we cannot leave our stories as hopeless ones because we do not believe that is the way this world will end. If we are, as Erikson says, “driving towards authenticity” our stories must contain something of that hope we carry. That’s not to say that every story must end hopefully, or with all the pieces put back together, but there must be room for it. We must as readers be able to see how redemption is possible, even if it’s only hinted at beyond the story’s end. Because this world is broken and many days and weeks end in the darkness and brokenness of despair, but that’s not where the story ends. This world will be redeemed and made whole once more.
So go ahead and tell the dark and gritty story you have to tell, let it pour out into the secondary world you’ve invented, but if you want to be authentic in your writing, make sure there’s room in all the grit for faith, hope, and love–in short, for redemption. Because that is the foundational reality the primary world is built upon.